‘Stretch codes’ threaten energy choice

January 4, 2022 By    

Members of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) have shared interests in defeating the electrify-everything movement that continues to advance across the country.

Homebuilders, remodelers, homebuyers and homeowners have a common interest in preserving and protecting the right to choose the types of energy used in homes. Attainable housing is dependent on affordable and reliable energy choices.

Stricter building codes, sometimes referred to as “stretch codes,” are beginning to affect the types of energy allowed in homes being built or remodeled. Homebuilders in most states build homes in compliance with the International Building Code and the International Residential Code, both part of the International Code Council (ICC) family. These codes operate in a three-year code cycle, similar to the National Fire Protection Association codes for the propane industry. Each state building code licensing and regulatory body adopts the appropriate ICC codes and amendments that apply to its state and updates codes and amendments periodically as new code cycles come under consideration.

The challenge for homebuilders, and the propane industry, is that newer editions of the ICC building codes and the stretch code amendments being considered in most states would be a big first step toward satisfying the electrify-everything movement. Embedded in the latest ICC building codes are standards that promote the use of electricity as the primary and only energy source for the home.

In most states, additional building code amendments are also under consideration by state building code regulatory bodies that take those electrification efforts further. For example, these stretch codes and amendments can demand that the home be wired for electricity at every usage point in the home, whether the home starts out all electric or not. In other words, the power panel in the home must be sized large enough in capacity for an all-electric home, regardless of the desired use of propane or natural gas in the finished home. Traditional propane usage points, such as cooking appliances, water heater, clothes dryer and space heating would be wired for electric applications, even though gas would be used at one or more of those points.

Taking it even further, the home would be wired to accommodate an electric vehicle (EV) recharging station, boldly assuming that all homeowners will soon be driving EVs.

The homebuilding industry is against these stretch building codes because they add unneeded initial costs to homes and drive up operating costs for homes in most parts of the country, thus making housing less affordable and attainable for all income levels of homebuyers.

In all areas of the country, the cost of electricity is rising rapidly – caused in part by the drive toward renewable electricity – while the reliability of electricity suffers due to generating capacity and grid delivery issues. Homebuyers will be forced to pay for electric infrastructure capacity that they may never use, while cutting back on other desired features to contain overall home costs, and they may even delay home purchasing because of affordability and financing issues.

The propane industry is also against these stretch building codes because they restrict energy choice for consumers and take away much of the freedom for homebuyers to choose propane as a part of the energy mix in their homes. The comfort, reliability and savings of using propane will become inaccessible to consumers over time.

Homebuyers will ask why they should add propane if their homes are already wired solely to use electricity. If you are asked that question, how will you respond? Answers can be found at propane.com/energyforeveryone.

Ultimately, it is a lobbying challenge that needs to be taken up in earnest by NPGA, working closely with state and regional propane associations and grassroots members of the industry. Raise your voice of concern over these pending draconian homebuilding regulations, or propane will forever lose its status as the energy for everyone.

Tom Jaenicke is vice president of propane marketing services for Warm Thoughts Communications. He can be reached at tjaenicke@warmthoughts.com or 810-252-7855.

Featured homepage image: iStock.com/jacomstephens

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